The conclusion to the amazing Cursebreakers series, this book could not have higher expectations surrounding it. What at first was a twist on Beauty and the Beast has created its own tremendous fantasy world filled with an evil enchantress, a lost brother, a girl stolen from her world to become a princess in another, a prince who is also beastly, and a new queen who must find the respect of her people. Told in alternating points of view, the novel takes us into each person’s perspective. There is Harper, who can barely look at her once-beloved Rhen but has been learning to use a sword and defend herself. Rhen, who regrets what he was forced to do but remains terrified of the magic that flows in his brother. Grey, who now lives in a nearby monarchy and is steadily learning to use his magic, probably to attack his brother. Lia Mara, the new queen who must find her own way without using the bloodshed that kept her mother in power. As war between the two kingdoms nears, the tension builds as romance and magic mingle to create a great read.
Kemmerer has managed to keep a marvelously tight rein on this series which easily could have spiraled out of control with its many protagonists, complex world building and fantasy elements. She manages to keep it focused on what brought Harper, Rhen and Grey together from the very beginning, making sure that readers remember that, see what has been lost along the way, and then offers a possibility, a hopeful way forward.
The book is in turns heart-breaking, hopeful and horrifying. The swirl of emotions works for each of the characters, each caught in their own situation, dependent upon one another, hoping they can do better than those who came before. The world itself is so strongly built from the enchantress’s curse to the castles themselves to the villages and towns that make up the kingdoms. It all clicks together into a unit that is unusual to see done so solidly in teen fantasy.
If you are a fan of the series, this one will not disappoint. If you haven’t read them yet, what are you waiting for? Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Nora grew up with a con artist for a mother and quickly became an integral part of the cons she would pull, cheating wealthy men of their ill-gotten wealth. Nora became multiple girls to do this, one after another as each con ended, she would reinvent herself. She is now Nora, a girl who escaped her mother but not without having to make some terrible decisions along the way. Rescued by her older sister, she is trying to live a new life. Then she finds herself caught up in a bank robbery where the skills she built in her childhood may be the only thing that will save her. She knows how to read desperate people, how to get them what they want, and how to manipulate them. It might just be enough to keep the two people she loves alive too: her ex-boyfriend and her new girlfriend, who he just found out about.
Sharpe has created a feminist thriller that is a dynamite mix of survival, intelligence, bravery and pure nerve. She sets the thriller in a taut situation of its own, a bank robbery gone very wrong. Add in the character of Nora, already a survivor and not willing to ever be abused again, and you have a dangerous and explosive book that you won’t be able to put down. Nora is a unique protagonist, fascinating with her brilliant mind, unique approach to others, and what she learned in a lifetime of cons. Readers will love her throughout the book as she is alight with her newfound freedom and not ever going to lose.
Sharpe’s writing is stellar. She uses fabulous metaphors throughout, using fire, weaponry and explosions to express emotions, creating a ticking timebomb of a novel. She also writes real sparks between Nora and Iris while also demonstrating the deep feelings that Nora has for Wes. This is a book where readers can see Nora’s mind work, feel the evolving situation, but also laugh out loud with pure feminist joy at times.
A gripping, stunning thriller for teens, this one a sharp knife of a novel. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
This graphic novel offers a series of strange and tantalizing short stories sure to give readers the shivers. Set in ordinary places like the beach, on a farm, and near a lake, these stories take the mundane and make it strange and horrifying. From a lonely girl who discovers the terrifying truth of what happened on the farm next door to a young girl who meets a boy on the beach who becomes her best friend but who only comes out at night, these stories invite readers to look under the surface to the darkness and weirdness that lurks there. The stories also ask whether monsters are kind or cruel, and how we know what a monster actually is. Some people trust too much, others too little and some find a new path.
I’m a huge fan of Howard’s 2020 graphic novel The Last Halloween: Children. She uses the same gorgeous pen and ink illustrations here, once again creating a world adjacent to our own that is bewildering and yet familiar. Her skill with storytelling is clear as she creates one tale after the other, stringing them together into a beautiful yet horrifying collection that can’t be put down.
She manages to quickly bring us into each story with both her text and her illustrations, showing us at first how normal each scene is and then swiftly ripping that away. It’s a pleasure to experience each reveal, timed just right for maximum impact and then to have the story play out in unexpected and surprising ways.
A great graphic novel for teen horror fans. Best read after dark. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Iron Circus Comics.
Lo is a survivor. She was born premature but lived, and she survived the car crash that killed her parents. Her sister, Bea, was always there until after their parents died. Then she disappeared into The Unity Project, leaving Lo with their great-aunt. Now Lo works as an assistant at a magazine, determined to become a writer. She knows there is more happening at The Unity Project than their public face of good deeds for the local community shows. Recognized by a young man at the subway who then killed himself, Lo discovers that he was part of The Unity Project too and that his father believes the Project killed him. Now Lo may have the opportunity to finally uncover what is actually happening at the Project, but as she gets closer to the truth, it may be too much for her to withstand.
Summers follows up her bestseller Sadie with this twisting, mind-bending novel. It is a slow burn of a book, steadily building toward the terrible truth that the reader can only suspect and guess at. Lo, with her physical and mental scars from the accident, is tragically lonely in her life and literally alone. She makes the ideal protagonist for a psychological thriller and also the perfect victim for a cult.
Teens who have followed the NXIVM cult news will recognize elements of that cult in this one. The book steadily tightens the noose around Lo while revealing Bea’s personal experience in the cult years earlier. From idyllic love to control to brutality and abuse, the mental anguish is intense. It is a book full of turns and twists, lies and prophesies, love and survival.
Amazingly raw and gripping, this tense novel is dizzying. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Wednesday Books.
Nala plans to spend her summer sampling new ice cream flavors and bingeing on Netflix. Since it’s her cousin’s birthday, she agrees to go to an open mic night for Inspire Harlem, a local teen activist group that her cousin is part of. The MC at the event is Tye Brown, who is handsome and funny, just the type of person that Nala wants to have as a boyfriend. Unfortunately, Nala starts off by telling him a few small lies, like that she is an activist too, that she works at a nursing home and that she’s a vegetarian too. As Nala and Tye spend their summer together, growing closer together, Nala’s lies become larger. Tye tries to help Nala with her nonexistent job at the nursing home her grandmother lives in. He also tries to change her even further, giving her gifts to help with her presentation skills and a water bottle so that she can be more green. Can lies turn into love? Can Nala find a way to be herself before she loses everything?
Watson once again writes a book that reads beautifully and easily while grappling with real issues. Here she focuses on what happens when a girl is willing to not be herself for a guy. While Nala’s lies are concrete, young women will also recognize how they may have disguised their true selves for a boy to like them more. The book is about liking yourself enough to stand in your own truth, not hide, and to be that person no matter who you are with. And if it doesn’t start that way, how to get back to that strong center and let it guide you.
Beautifully, Nala is a plus-sized girl who is not ashamed of her size, who likes cheese, meat and ice cream, and who is able to gain the attention of the cutest guy in the group. Time is spent thinking about her makeup and hair, but not her weight. It’s vital for Nala to be a strong person in this book, a girl you would not think would lie to get a boyfriend. She must find her way back to pride in herself, love for who she is, and a sense that she deserves the best.
Big-hearted, this novel tells the deep truth to young Black women through a series of lies. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Beckett is the girl that everyone looks at when she walks through the halls. She’s the girl with the addict of a father, who supposedly found him after he killed himself. There is some truth to the rumors, but Beckett also knows there are a lot of truths being hidden from her. After coming to school late, Beckett hides in the girls’ locker room that is undergoing remodeling until her class starts. That’s when she notices the trail of blood leading from the showers to a gym bag, a bag that holds a dead newborn baby. Soon rumors are swirling about Beckett again, this time insisting that she is the baby’s mother. While Beckett knows the truth about herself, she begins to think that those around her may be more involved than they might admit. With her mother the lead police investigator on the case, Beckett finds herself under lots of scrutiny, needing to prove the baby is not hers, but also realizing that due to other evidence that it must be someone close to her.
Vincent has created a riveting book that show the power of rumors in a small town, escalated and empowered by social media. Beckett stands no chance at staunching the wild rumors, with people in town even willing to say the most vile things directly to her face. She becomes more and more isolated, even as her own investigation into the baby’s death becomes more intense. The writing of this novel is particularly skilled, the tension so tight at times that it almost hurts. The final reveal of the truth is satisfying, since all the pieces click in place nicely.
At times, Beckett seems to be the lone truth teller in her family and in the entire town, standing against the rumors that almost drown her. She is profoundly strong, someone not only unwilling to bow before the social pressure but also someone who must know the truth, no matter how shattering it might be. Her relationships with her family members and her boyfriend are well drawn and show the impact of the loss of a father only a few months earlier.
Gripping and tense, this rumor-filled novel calls for us all to do better by one another. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association, has released their 2021 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers list. The list has 64 titles on it selected from 81 nominations. The list is specifically aimed at titles that encourage reading among teens who dislike reading for any reason. I find that this list contains titles you won’t see on other award lists that teens will love and read. Here is the selected Top Ten: